The Election and Coronation of Pope Leo X

Leo X by Peter Paul Rubens
In 1513, Pope Julius II died. Julius is probably better known as Giuliano della Roverre, the arch nemesis of Pope Alexander VI and his son Cesare Borgia – yet he really was a rather brilliant Pope and brought us such wonders as St Peter’s Basilica (which we see today) and the beautiful ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As well as this, he was known as The Warrior Pope, wrestling Rome from Borgia influence and bringing the Papal states back into the arms of the Church. During Julius’ reign, murders were less frequent and bodies were found less frequently on the streets than ever before; and he practically stamped out simony in the Roman Catholic church even going so far as to issue a papal bull on his deathbed which made it so any future simoniacal elections were completely invalid. And remembering what had happened in previous elections, he made arrangements so that all of the treasure that he had was locked in the Castel Sant’Angelo to prevent plundering, strict orders being given to make sure that it was only handed over to his successor. Following his death, on March 4th 1513 the Papal conclave began. 
Dejan Cukic as Giuliano della Roverre (Pope Julius II) in Borgia: Faith & Fear
This conclave was virtually unanimous in the fact that they wanted the complete opposite to the reign of Julius. In essence, they wanted things a bit more laid back than the way Julius had run things – he had been the complete opposite to his (almost) predecessor Alexander VI, strict and completely against most vices. Not only that, the college of Cardinals were fed up of the way Julius forced them to march across Italy and the way he bullied them. Life would be much simpler if they elected an easygoing Pope who cared little for such restrictions and a man who would die quickly enough to bring in another Pope. It took the conclave a week to agree on the best candidate – Cardinal Giovanni de Medici.

John Bradley as Giovanni de Medici (Leo X) in Borgia: Faith & Fear
Giovanni de Medici was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, born in 1475 and a contemporary of Cesare Borgia during their time at University. When he was elected as Pope in 1513 he was just just thirty seven years old; despite his wealth and being the son of the ruling family of Florence, his age meant that if he was elected then the older cardinals in the conclave would likely never get a change at becoming Supreme Pontiff. Giovanni’s young age wasn’t really all that much of a problem though as his health was exceptionally poor. To even be able to attend the conclave in 1513 he had to bring his physician in with him thanks to the open ulcer on his leg – and during the conclave the ulcer in question troubled the young man so much that the Cardinal’s realised that his health wouldn’t hold out for long anyway. And so, on March 11th Cardinal Giovanni de Medici became Pope Leo X.
And it seemed from the outset that the Conclave had made the right decision. The reign of Pope Leo would be a reign of pleasure although not the sort of pleasure that defined the reigns of previous Popes. There would be no orgies, no bullfights and he himself would not endorse murders. But rather it would be civilised, and he would enjoy the pleasures of art, scholasticism and the pleasures of the table. He would even get himself a pet elephant! In fact, when Leo was elected as Pope he wrote to his brother, “God has given us the Papacy – let us enjoy it!”
When young Giovanni was made a Cardinal in 1492, his father Lorenzo wrote him a letter detailing how he should behave – that he should avoid the corruption that the rest of the college took part in, and that because of his youth the others would use it to drag him down; that he should spend his money wisely on books, keeping a good array of distinguished servants and by eating at home rather than eating out; that he encircle himself with a select group of learned men and that he take plenty of exercise and look after his health. For the most part Giovanni did exactly as his father told him and even refused to give Rodrigo Borgia his vote in the conclave of 1492. And as Borgia ran his papacy, Giovanni de Medici sat back and absorbed what was going on. And what he learned in his early days as a Cardinal would come full circle to affect his own papacy.
By the time Leo was crowned as Pope, most of Old St Peter’s Basilica was in ruins. The previous Pope, Julius II, had begun the renovations of the old basilica and the beginnings of the basilica that we see today had only recently been started. The coronation therefore was held in a tent erected outside the basilica. And at the coronation in the tent, he was presented with the huge triple layered tiara and approached by the Master of Ceremonies who held a lit torch in front of him speaking the words, “And so passes the glory of the world”. A slave also stood behind the Pope during his triumphal parade repeating the phrase “Remember, thou art but a man” and the Master of Ceremonies then stood in front of the new Pope reminding Leo, “Thou shalt never see the years of Peter!” – a reminder of the first Pope’s long reign. Following the coronation in the tent Leo went in a grand procession to the Lateran palace, which was once an important part of the Roman Catholic church but has long since been taken over by the Vatican. At any rate it was an incredibly important part of the ceremony. And Leo’s procession to the Lateran was magnificent, far surpassing the splendour of previous reigns – Leo X was a Medici after all, and he knew how to throw a party. The route was lined with marble statues recently excavated, and triumphal arches were built for the occasion while the houses that lined the route of the procession hung laurels and banners coloured with the Medici red and gold from their windows. In the procession walked soldiers, and the families of each cardinal, the gonfalons (banner men) of each ancient region, the five gonfalons of the Holy See. They themselves were followed by white mules, the Roman barons, bankers, merchants and soldiers. After all of them was the new Pope, Leo X with a detachment of Swiss Guards walking just ahead of him. These soldiers were brought to Rome by Julius II and were incredibly tough and used to guard the Vatican. The Swiss Guard still Guard Vatican City today although their position is now entirely ceremonial, and the colourful uniforms that they wear have remained largely unchanged.
The Swiss Guard, on duty at the Vatican
Finally came Leo, the new Holy Father. He was a funny looking man with a very large head and a hugely obese body. His legs were apparently so spindly that instead of walking it was like he scuttled about (I always imagine this as something like a bug scuttling about), and his eyes were protubing in his red, chubby face. In the procession he rode upon a beautiful Arabian white stallion, while officials held a cloth of silk to offer the Pope some protection from the intense heat – despite this, accounts of the procession state that he was sweating massively beneath the weight of the Pontifical robes and jewels yet that he showed little sign of minding, riding well despite his ulcer. The ulcer that plagued him must have been very painful, yet according to witnesses he smiled and greeted the cheering crowds with brilliant majesty. And as he rode, his clamberlains carried two huge chests of coins which they would reach into and throw to the waiting crowds.
In total, the procession and first few days of celebration alone cost Leo X over 100,000 ducats. This huge amount amounted to well over a third of the amount that his predecessor had stashed away in the Castel Sant’Angelo. It was really a marker of just how much money Leo would waste away on frivolities over his reign as Supreme Pontiff – and he spent a hell of a lot!
Leo X’s reign would indeed prove to be a “Golden Age”, but not for the good he did. Rather it was called this later as a bit of a joke at the sheer amount of money he would spend. Indeed, Leo X’s reign is far from golden in the history of the Roman Catholic Church – and during his years as Pope, Leo would have to survive the birth of Protestantism, and Martin Luther would prove to be a thorn in his side.
Further Reading

The Sistine Chapel Ceiling

When I visited Rome in the summer, one of the most amazing experiences was walking into the Sistine Chapel and just looking up. Despite the fact that the chapel was rammed with people and the scary security guards kept yelling at people to be quiet, seeing the beautiful frescoes by Michelangelo was just mind blowing, and an experience I will never forget.

The frescoes by Michelangelo tell the story of God’s creation of the world as can be read in the book of Genesis, and the panel’s show God’s creation of man, their fall from grace and the story of the Great Flood as man’s punishment for their sins. It should be noted however that not all the panels are in the correct order; and Michelangelo also brings in other figures from elsewhere in the bible.

In 1505, Michelangelo was called to Rome. He was already an incredibly famous artist thanks to his brilliant sculptures. But he wasn’t actually called to Rome to begin painting the ceiling. He was actually commissioned by Pope Julius II to build him a magnificent tomb. And Michelangelo took to the task with gusto and huge enthusiasm, spending over 8 months in the quarries of Carrara to chose the best blocks of marble.

Michelangelo became obsessed with the tomb, and for a long time it was all he thought about. The plans for the tomb became more and more grand and Michelangelo’s obsession probably started to annoy the Pope who was concentrating more on the rebuilding of St Peters Basilica. And as Julius became more obsessed with the church, he refused to give Michelangelo any more money for the tomb and dismissed the artist from the papal court. He was back in Florence in May 1506, and though bitterly disappointed never lost his enthusiasm for Julius’ tomb and it was eventually built many years after Julius’ death though it was much, much smaller than the original plan.

It was Julius II who came up with the idea of painting the Sistine chapel ceiling, as the original was rather outdated and didn’t fit in with the other paintings on the chapel walls. And in 1508, Michelangelo was the man chosen to repaint the ceiling. There are stories that Michelangelo’s rival Bramante suggested Michelangelo as a suitable candidate for the task, hoping to embarrass him. After all, Michelangelo was first and foremost a sculptor and had never proven himself as a fresco painter. In the end it would be Bramante who would be the one with the red face. On the 10th May 1508, Michelangelo wrote in his diary:

“I record that today, May 10 1508, I, Michelangelo sculptor, have received on account from our Holy Lord Pope Julius II five hundred papal ducats counted by Messer Carlino (of the chamber) and Messer Carlo degli Albrizzi, towards the painting of the vault of Pope Sixtus on which I am beginning to work today, upon the conditions and agreements that appear in thee writings of the most reverend Monsignor of Pavia (Francesco Alidosi), and signed in my own hand”

Michelangelo was original contracted to paint the twelve apostles, who were to be seated on thrones. There were to be five on each side of the chapel and one at each end. The rest of the ceiling would be painting geometrically and conventionally. But Michelangelo scrapped this idea and said that “they would turn our poorly”. He decided that Julius’ plan was too simple, too boring and it wouldn’t use enough of his talents (especially his talent of showing the human form unclothed). Instead he began a much more complicated idea which ended up with him painting over 300 human figures and it allowed him a huge artistic outlet that reflected his own deep religious feelings.

The ceiling is made up of nine panels, depicting the stories from Genesis. The first three panels near the altar show the creation of the world by God, the next three show the creation of Adam and Eve and their fall from Grace and the last three show the story of Noah. The Noah panels are painted in reverse order, starting with the drunkenness of Noah and moving backwards. Surrounding the main panels are an assortment of complicated stories, all taken from the bible. Below are pictures of each of the panels:

The Division of Light from Darkness

The Creation of the Sun and Moon
The Separation of the Sky and the Water
The Creation of Adam
The Creation of Eve
The Fall and the Expulsion
The Flood
Noah’s Sacrifice
The Drunkenness of Noah

Dotted around the panels are other panels showing other stories from the bible such as David and Goliath and The Prophet Jonah. With David and Goliath, Michelangelo shows the story at its end, when David is beheading the giant; and with Jonah you can see the Prophet about to be eaten by the whale (or fish as the bible states). An interesting point about the painting of Jonah is that Michelangelo painted it from a vantage point less than a metre away from the wall when he was up on his scaffold; and when you look at the painting one wonders how on earth he did it.

David and Goliath
The Prophet Jonah
The Prophet Daniel
The Prophet Isaiah
The ceiling was finished in 1512, four years after it was started; and was unveiled at the vigil of All Saints Day on 31st October. Michelangelo once more entered the Sistine Chapel in 1536 and painted the famous Last Judgement (quite possibly my favourite of his works of art). 
Michelangelo died on 18th February 1564 at the age of nearly 90. Originally buried in Rome, his body was smuggled out of Rome by his nephew and taken to Florence and buried in the church of Santa Croce. His paintings in the Sistine chapel had already become the stuff of legend, and the genius workmanship would be appreciated for many hundreds of years to come. Of course, the work is still the stuff of legend; and thousands upon thousands of people walk through the Sistine Chapel every day just to glimpse these remarkable frescoes..
Further Reading